We begin the week here on My Poetic Side with the sad news of the death of the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who has died after a short illness.
Benjamin Zephaniah Dies Aged 65
The literary world was hit on Thursday, 7th December, with the news that the poet, writer and Peaky Blinders actor Benjamin Zephaniah had died at the age of 65.
Zephaniah died with his wife by his side. It had been made known to him that he had a brain tumour only eight weeks prior. His death, however, was a complete surprise to many who considered him to be a “titan of British literature.”
From Birmingham, Zephaniah was fathered by a postman from Barbados and a nurse from Jamaica. He left school at the age of 13. He was dyslexic and unable to write or read. At the age of 22, he relocated to London where he published his first collection, named “Pen Rhythm. “ In his early work he utilised dub poetry, which is a Jamaican-style poetry that has, over time, evolved from the music genre that carries the same name.
In addition to his poetry, he also performed with The Benjamin Zephaniah Band. He quickly rose to fame, and his face was a familiar one on television. He was credited with being the person who brought dub poetry into the living rooms of the British public.
In addition to writing poetry for children, he was also the author of five novels, and in 1994, his first book for younger readers was published and became an instant success.
As an actor, he appeared between 2013 and 2022 in the drama known as Peaky Blinders. His character Jeremiah “Jimmy” Jesus appeared in a total of 14 episodes spanning six series.
In 2003 his name hit the headlines when he rejected an OBE. He said that he did not want to be associated with such an honour because of the history of the British Empire and slavery. In a TV interview in 2020, he said,
about his decision. He felt that having spent a lifetime fighting, it would be hypocritical to accept.
He often spoke out on a number of issues, including education and racial abuse.
Zephaniah released an album titled “Rasta” in 1982, which featured the first recording that the Wailers had made since the death of Bob Marley. The album included a tribute to Nelson Mandela who was at the time a political prisoner.
When the news of Zephaniah’s death broke, there was an outpouring of tributes on social media platforms. The Black Writers’ Guild, which the poet had helped to establish, said
The poet Michael Rosen posted on social media how devastated he was by the news, and Lemn Sissay, who considered Zephaniah a brother, also voiced his deep sorrow at the news.